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Published: 2006-11-02 00:00:00

The trust set up to manage the multi-million dollar joint fund to protect Lake Taupo has been given the go-ahead to start work.

Environment Waikato Chairman Jenni Vernon said she was delighted with the Government approval this week of the administrative structure for the Lake Taupo Protection Trust.

Taupo District Council Mayor Clayton Stent also said that he was pleased that the Trust could finally get underway.

“It has been a long process and the community must be thanked for their patience.” he said. “We will now be able to work on the long-term health of Lake Taupo”

Cr Vernon said the Trust would begin formally working on ways of reducing nitrogen pollution.

“Lake Taupo’s excellent water quality is under threat from the effects of past and current land use activities. More nutrient-dependent weeds and slimes are now growing near lakeshore settlements, and potentially toxic algae blooms in 2001 and 2003 brought health warnings for Whakaipo and Omori bays. These are unmistakeable signs that the lake is slowly deteriorating - and we simply can't sit around and let this happen,” she said.

“The trust will use the multi-million dollar joint fund to encourage and assist land-use change, and to purchase land/nitrogen in the Lake Taupo catchment, as well as other initiatives to assist landowners to reduce the nitrogen impact of their activities on the lake.”

About 94 percent of manageable nitrogen entering the lake came from stock effluent on farmland leaching through soil into groundwater and rivers, and ultimately into the lake. The remaining 6 percent of manageable nitrogen came predominantly from urban wastewater, such as sewage and septic tank seepage. Taupo urban ratepayers are contributing to an upgrade of all the urban wastewater sewage systems.

“Nitrogen feeds the growth of tiny free-floating algae which impact on the Lake’s health and water clarity – and therefore the trust is aiming to reduce this impact by achieving a 20 per cent reduction in nitrogen entering the lake from both rural and urban sources over 15 years.”

The funding for the trust (of up to $81.5 million inclusive of GST) is contributed by central government Taupo District Council and Environment Waikato

The funding payments for the project have been adjusted to account for a difference in the GST and the original allowance for inflation over the life of the project. This has resulted in Environment Waikato and Taupo District Council collecting a larger proportion, relative to the Government’s contribution, than originally anticipated.

The two Councils have voted in the interim to keep the trust contributions in the same proportions as agreed in 2004, with the Government contributing 45 per cent, Taupo District ratepayers 22 per cent, and regional ratepayers the balance of 33 per cent .

“The funding of the trust will come up for review within five years, where there will be an opportunity to revisit funding, if necessary” said Cr Vernon. The additional proportion of ratepayer funding is being reserved by both councils until the outcomes of the five year review are known. If this additional funding is not required, the time period over which the rates are collected will be shortened.

The Lake Taupo Protection Trust has six trustees who bring a wide range of skills and experience. They include: John Kneebone, of Cambridge (a former chair of Landcare Research, former director of AFFCO, and a former president of Federated Farmers), Gerald Fitzgerald (a lawyer and partner with Kensington Swan from Wellington), Colin Horton (an international agricultural consultant based in Hamilton), John Hura (chairperson of the Taupo-nui-a-tia Management Board, and a forester from Turangi), Jeremy Rickman (a chartered accountant and partner at Beattie Rickman from Hamilton), Susan Yerex (a drystock farmer, and founding member of Taupo Lakecare Group from Turangi)

Mayor Clayton Stent says the project is very fortunate to have such depth of knowledge and high calibre of experience in the trustees. “The trust has already proved that they can work well together and I look forward to their first plan of how they intend to apply the funding,” he said.

The trust will be accountable to a joint committee, which includes members of the three funding parties – Environment Waikato, Taupo District Council, Central Government, as well as Ngati Tuwharetoa.

Environment Waikato has already introduced a proposed ‘Variation’ or change to the proposed Waikato Regional Plan for the Taupo catchment to ‘cap’ nitrogen entering the lake. This Variation is currently before a Hearings Committee.